The 112th Tennessee General Assembly convened Tuesday, re-electing speakers of the House and Senate and setting the stage for a session clouded by an FBI investigation of lawmakers and staff and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
House Speaker Cameron Sexton and Senate Speaker Randy McNally, both Republicans, were unanimously re-elected to their posts with limited Democratic abstentions. The chambers are holding organizational meetings this week ahead of an expected special session next week devoted to public education and the pandemic.
The House elected Republican Rep. Pat Marsh of Shelbyville as speaker pro tempore, while the Senate re-elected Sen. Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin) as speaker pro tempore.
Republican Gov. Bill Lee called the in-session special session in an effort to address the effects of COVID-19 on Tennessee schools, and legislative initiatives expected during the short term include a $100 million literacy initiative, changes to the state funding formula to account for lower attendance during the pandemic and protections for teachers from lower evaluation scores.
Afterward, the General Assembly will return for its normal session, at which public health, guns and criminal justice will be among the priorities for lawmakers.
The return to Nashville comes days after federal investigators raided some Republican lawmakers’ and staff members’ homes and offices. Staff members targeted by search warrants have been placed on paid leave, though the three lawmakers — Reps. Robin Smith, Glen Casada and Todd Warner — continue in their posts.
Republican Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver attended the protest-turned-riot in Washington, D.C., last week (she said she "did nothing wrong" and condoned the violence, which she attributed to "Antifa" despite overwhelming evidence that fellow Trump supporters were responsible), and law enforcement officials are planning for similar events at the Tennessee Capitol next week.
The lawmakers have also faced COVID-19 in their ranks. Republican Rep. David Byrd has been a patient in a Nashville hospital with the disease for more than a month, and several other members have contracted the virus. Sexton is not requiring members to wear masks despite the close quarters at the Capitol, according to the Tennessee Lookout.